By PR Pradhan
Sugarcane farmers returned to their homes after the government assured them of clearing their dues with the sugar mills in Sarlahi district. The farmers had arrived Kathmandu with a high hope of receiving their dues from the sugar mill owners staying here. When those owners were not ready to pay the farmers’ dues, the farmers were compelled to stage a sit-in demonstration at the Maitighar Mandala even during the chilly days in Kathmandu. Although the Communist government didn’t respond to such a demonstration of the farmers, the media in Kathmandu gave good coverage on the plight of the sugarcane farmers. One minister had even said that the mill owners were out of the Ministry’s contact. However, when MPs raised the issue in the Parliament committee meetings, the government was compelled to respond to the issue. The Ministry for Industry and Supplies wrote a letter to the Home Ministry to arrest those mill owners who have not cleared the dues of the sugarcane farmers. Then only, the mill owners reached to the Ministry to escape their arrest.
The sugar mill owners, by exploiting the farmers, have made their investment in other areas. One of the mill owners, Shashikant Agrawal, has even opened an international chain hotel Marriot in Kathmandu.
The sugar mill owners, all the Marbaries, have not cleared around 1.5 billion dues to the farmers. According to the farmers, different sugar mills have not released Rs 1.34 billion to them.
Annapurna Sugar Mill is yet to clear dues worth Rs 50 million. The mill has not released payments of sugarcane for the last five years. Sri Ram Sugar Mill has not paid almost Rs 420 million to the cane farmers since the last three years.
Maha Laxmi Sugar Mill has to clear payments worth Rs 210 million to the farmers since one year. Similarly, Indira Sugar Mill, Bagmati Sugar Mill and Lumbini Sugar Mill have not paid Rs 210 million to the sugarcane farmers.
Farmers in Sarlahai and Nabalparashi areas are attracted towards sugarcane farming as sugarcane cultivation is good. Therefore, farmers, even taking loan with 36 percent interest rate, have cultivated sugarcane in such lands.
Since the close-down of the government owned Birgunj Sugar Mill and Lumbini Sugar Mill, the farmers have started to suffer from the private mills. The private mill owners, on the one hand, are cheating the government, on the other, they are exploiting farmers. Several years ago, the government had decided to pay subsidy to the sugarcane farmers. Billions worth of subsidy was found captured by the mill owners and the farmers were further exploited.
Whether the mill owners are just a broker or industrialist, it has become difficult to identify. Last year, the mill owners lobbied to stop sugar imports from India saying that Nepal is self-sufficient in sugar production. The government, responding to the mill owners, stopped import of sugar from India. Immediately after the stopping of Indian sugar, the mill owners hiked the price for local consumers. The consumers had to pay a high price of local sugar, on the other hand, the mill owners benefited from the price curtailing. Farmers didn’t get a single rupee from the additional profit the mill owners made.
The present government is a government of the communists and believes on socialism. The first duty of the government had to be for the welfare of the farmers. But the government is always seen close to the feudalists and brokers. The market is strongly dominated by the middlemen, brokers, and feudal groups. On the one hand, local consumers are being cheated, on the other, the real farmers are being exploited.
Sometimes, we see dairy farmers are found throwing milk in highways, sometimes, farmers are compelled to throw away cauliflower in the roads as they were exploited by those middlemen and brokers. At present, there is skyrocketing of onion price. The government has not been able to control the price-hike of onion. Price of food items has been skyrocketed in the local market. Without any reason, traders have increased the price and the government has remained as a silent spectator. And the government, it seems, is the representative of those brokers and middlemen.
Nepal is an agricultural country, yet, farmers are always exploited and the government is not sympathetic towards the farmers. In India, farmers get subsidy, including in the supply of fertilizer on time. Nepali farmers get no subsidy and even if subsidy is distributed, the real farmers don’t get that. When the farmers grow vegetables or other agro-products, they don’t get a good price. Always, they have to compete with the subsidized Indian products. Every time, we see agriculture minister but every minister is found delaying the supply of fertilizers. It happens because the ministers are always under the grip of those fertilizer suppliers.
It seems, the present political system will not benefit the farmers as the system has always encouraged corruption at an institutionalized manner. Corruption cannot be controlled as the source of corruption is the supreme leaders of the political parties. Unless the end of corruption, to think about farmers’ welfare is impossible!
30 years ago, we had a different system – partyless panchayat democracy. May be for those corrupt leaders that era could be the black days, yet, for the commoners, that was the golden era. The system, as per the need of the country, had followed a mixed economy. The government was operating different industries, that too running in profit and paying huge amounts as tax to the government. There were two sugar mills giving good prices, that too in advance, to the farmers. Accordingly, the farmers were receiving different incentive from the government. The government used to purchase rice and other agro-products with local farmers through the government and semi government agencies such as Rice Export Company, Nepal Food Corporation, National Trading and Salt Trading. The private sector, thus, was unable to organize curtailing the system as the government was able to intervene in the market immediately. Both consumers and farmers benefited enormously from such a mechanism. The present government has not even been ready to adopt such a successful mechanism practiced decades ago for the benefit of commoners.